Okay, yes, I know we swore we would never fly United again.
It’s rare that something goes correctly when traveling with United during the past several years. It’s usually a shuffle of planes, gates, and information that prompts us to wistfully comment, “Remember when flying used to be fun?”
But the prices and flight option mirages seduce us as it always does. United claims to have wonderful flights and prices. Their prices are several hundred dollars below the other airlines. So, wincing, we think…should we trust them?
It’s like being in a bad relationship. The other swears to change. You want to believe. You take them back, and they go out and do the same damn heart-breaking things as before.
You learn, again, you can’t trust them.
On this episode of United Horror, my wife was traveling alone. The travel east, from Medford, Oregon, to Charleston, WV, went almost perfectly. Everyone was so nice, she said. This was, of course, because United had encountered another P.R. moment when a woman was forced to hold her baby for the entire flight after she’d bought a ticket for the child.
Service and pleasantness declined a little in Chicago. “Maybe they didn’t get the memo,” she said, but it was nothing major.
Now we’re set up for the return. Her first leg on her way home, to Chicago, went fine. It fell to pieces in Chicago. In line to board, the passengers were told there was a delay. Mechanical problem. The delay was for several hours; it meant my wife would miss her next leg.
She headed to customer service. Nothing can be done, she was told.
What about flights on other airlines?
What about going to Portland instead, and then catching a flight to Medford?
They would get her to Portland, but she was on her own after that, and good luck.
Well, that would leave her almost three hundred miles from her destination.
Yep, true. Good luck with that.
Well, mechanic issues happen. Food vouchers were given. She bought a vegetarian sandwich in the airport. How was the sandwich? “Well, there were vegetables.”
She was scheduled to arrive in Medford by quarter to one in the morning. Instead, she arrived in San Francisco at two in the morning. “You’re booked on the same flight as before, but delayed twenty-four hours,” the customer service supervisor told her. Instead of arriving at Medford at a quarter to one Friday morning, she’d be arriving at quarter to one on Saturday morning. “We also have put you on stand-by for an earlier flight, but the flights are full. We’re going to put you up for two nights in a hotel. Wait right here, and we’ll take care of you.”
Then they left.
Almost an hour later, my wife wandered through the SFO terminal in search of United help. Customer service was full of sleeping passengers, but no workers. Have you ever been in these terminals at three in the morning? Cleaning crews circulate while stranded passengers sprawl out or desperately occupy themselves.
Finding a customer service hotline, she called for assistance. “Just go to customer service,” she was told.
“That’s where I was. There’s no one there except sleeping passengers.”
“Well then, I don’t know what you can do,” the helpful agent replied.
Bravely continuing on her quest, my wife circulated around the United gates and customer service areas until she spied United employee. Flagging her down, she explained what had happened. To her credit, this woman took care of her.
My wife arrived at her Comfort Suites room at four in the morning.
While my wife was enduring her flying fun, another woman was furious with United for keeping her baby in an overheated aircraft for two hours.
I offered to drive down to San Francisco and pick my wife up. It’s only a four and a half hour drive, in theory. Weekend traffic and construction would probably extend that travel time. She declined. She’ll be patient and wait, not because she trusts United, but because it’s all set in motion.
An eclipse is happening on August twenty-first. Oregon is considered prime viewing territory, so we’re bracing ourselves. Hotel prices have climbed. People are renting out houses, rooms, and their yards, with bathroom privileges. These sort of total eclipses don’t happen that often. People want to be part of the scene.
Hertz has already confirmed that they’ve overbooked, and have a problem, and have begun canceling reservations. United, of course, will overbook. That’s their motto: “We overbook.” There’s a damn good chance in my mind that if you’re flying via United, you’ll end up arriving a few hours after the eclipse.
Oh, the stories people will tell.